Toussaint L’ Ouverture (c.1744-1803), son of an African prince and Haitian martyr, was a self-educated slave freed shortly before the uprising in 1791, he joined the black rebellion to liberate the slaves and became its organizational genius. A fervent Catholic, and member of high degree of the Masonic Lodge of Saint-Domingue, he rapidly rose to power, Toussaint joined forces for a brief period in 1793 with the Spanish of Santo Domingo and in a series of fast-moving campaigns became known as L’ Ouverture [the opening], a name he adopted. Although he professed allegiance to France, first to the Republic and then to Napoleon, he was single heartedly devoted to the cause of his own people and advocated it in his talks with French commissioners. Late in 1793, Britian in attempting to reduce French influence in the area, occupied all of Haiti’s coastal cities and allied themselves with the Spanish in the eastern part of the island. Following several battles Toussaint Louverture signed a trading treaty with the British in May 1799 whereupon they withdrew from the island.
In 1801, Toussaint conquered Santo Domingo, which had been ceded by Spain to France in 1795, and thus he governed the whole island. By then professing only nominal allegiance to France, he reorganized the government and instituted public improvements. In 1802 Napoleon sent a large force under General Leclerc to subdue Toussaint, who had become a major obstacle to French colonial ambitions in the Western Hemisphere; the Haitians, however, offered stubborn resistance, and a peace treaty was drawn. Toussaint himself was seized and sent to France, where he died in a dungeon at Fort-de-Joux, in the French Jura. His valiant life and tragic death made him a symbol of the fight for liberty, and he is celebrated in one of Wordsworth’s finest sonnets.
Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon’s earless den;
O Miserable Chieftain! Where and when
Wilt thou find Patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There’s not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.
– William Wordsworth